The number of Maoists killed in an encounter with security forces over the weekend could be between 12 and 20, according to home ministry and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officials aware of the developments, with intelligence inputs suggesting that the extremists used grenade launchers in the ambush that claimed the lives of at least 22 security personnel.
While the body of one Maoist cadre was recovered in a search operation after one of the deadliest attacks in recent years, the casualty figure of the ultras was expected to be much higher, one of the people cited above said.
The information on the Maoist deaths was backed by surveillance inputs captured by a Heron drone which indicated that two tractor-trolleys were used to ferry the dead extremists back into deep forests, the person added.
“Our estimate is that between 12 and 20 Maoist cadres have been killed or else they would have not asked for two tractor-trolleys. They tried to encircle CoBRA, black panthers and DRG-STF troops but were not successful. We will retaliate on our own terms,” said a senior CRPF official who asked not to be named.
The Maoists regrouped and tried to surround another area on Sunday morning after the initial attack, but the attempt was repelled, and security forces reached their base safely, the CRPF official said.
The casualty numbers in the ambush on both sides were high as the encounter took place in the nerve centre of the Maoist operations, the Bijapur-Sukma area in the Bastar region, another official said.
The official added that the Maoists used barrel grenade launchers in the attack, which resulted in several deaths, many due to splinter injuries. The security forces also retaliated with grenade launchers attached to automatic weapons, the official said.
Wireless intercepts indicated that the Maoists managed to track the movement of the security forces, but the Heron drone also picked up movements of multiple Maoist teams, a fourth person said a review of the incident indicated.
Around 11.10am on Saturday, a firefight broke out between the forces and the Maoists, with grenade launchers being used by both sides, the person added. The team of the security forces, about 460 of them, later moved towards an open area to facilitate the evacuation of the injured. The troops retrieved the body of a woman from the Maoist group along with an INSAS rifle in an operation later.
Union home minister Amit Shah on Sunday held a top-level meeting with senior officers in New Delhi on the incident. Home secretary Ajay Bhalla, intelligence bureau director Arvind Kumar and senior CRPF officers were present at the meeting.
While CRPF director-general Kuldiep Singh was in Raipur, the home ministry’s adviser on Maoist activities, K Vijay Kumar, was in Jagdalpur to review the situation.
Shah, who is scheduled to chair another meeting on the incident on Monday, said a befitting response will be given to those responsible for the Maoist attack.
“Our securitymen have lost their lives, we will not tolerate this bloodshed and a befitting reply will be given at an appropriate time,” Shah said. He added that both sides suffered losses and the exact casualty figures were being ascertained